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Supreme Court Denies Review Of Puerto Ricans' Citizenship

November 23, 1999
Copyright © 1999 DOW JONES INTERNATIONAL NEWS. All Rights Reserved.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP)--The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear a case that questions the strength of the U.S. citizenship extended to Puerto Ricans, a right granted by a 1917 law rather than the Constitution.

The court's denial ends a one-year legal battle by San Juan attorney David Efron to allow his 15-year-old daughter born in Puerto Rico to be naturalized to obtain citizenship guaranteed by the Constitution. The request was denied by the court Nov. 8 and was reported Tuesday in the San Juan Star newspaper.

Jennifer Efron now lives in Florida, where lower courts also turned down her request.

Celebrity lawyer Alan Dershowitz, part of Efron's legal team, told The Associated Press Tuesday that he believes the court did not want to deal with Puerto Rico 's controversial status issue at a time when the island's ties with the U.S. are the focus of intensive political debate.

"It's a question of timing. The Supreme Court at this point in time does not want to get into the political thicket," Dershowitz said. "That doesn't mean they won't (review the issue) a year from now, or two or three - I think they will."

The Supreme Court has never heard a case relating to Puerto Ricans' citizenship. The denial was "somewhat expected," Efron said in a written statement Monday.

Dershowitz said the court also might have turned down the case because Jennifer Efron was not in immediate danger of losing her U.S. citizenship.

"We were trying to protect against eventual possibilities," Dershowitz said. "But the court does not like to deal in possibilities - they want something more concrete."

Puerto Ricans have debated for decades whether they should remain a U.S. commonwealth or become a U.S. state, with commonwealth having a slightly larger margin. Independence has garnered less than 5% of votes in recent status plebiscites.

Congress granted Puerto Ricans U.S. citizenship through a law, and Efron's lawyers argue they could revoke it, too - especially if the island eventually became independent. Immigration officials said Jennifer Efron could not naturalize because she already is a U.S. citizen.

The Puerto Rican government, now run by the island's pro- statehood party, had filed a brief last month with the Supreme Court requesting it hear the Efron petition.

Statehooders often complain that because the island is a territory, its U.S. citizens are treated differently. David Efron, a statehood supporter, admits that his petition is "more than a case - it's a cause."

Puerto Rico 's Justice Department said in its brief that Puerto Ricans' U.S. citizenship is "inferior" and leaves millions of Puerto Ricans' citizenship status "in limbo."

Puerto Rico has nearly four million residents and there are an estimated two million Puerto Ricans living in the mainland U.S.

Under the commonwealth arrangement, residents do not pay federal taxes but receive millions of dollars in federal funds. However, they cannot vote for president and only have one nonvoting member of Congress.

The U.S. Supreme Court last week also turned down a petition from a Puerto Rican independence activist who wanted to renounce his U.S. citizenship to be a citizen of Puerto Rico , The San Juan Star newspaper reported Tuesday.

Lower courts ruled that attorney Alberto Lozada Colon could not renounce his U.S. citizenship and continue to live in Puerto Rico unless he registered as a foreign resident.

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